Updated: Apr 5
Single use plastic is really gross. I feel more strongly about this- after I did some back breaking sweaty beach cleans for myself in Malaysia earlier this year. We did extensive beach cleans, but otherwise we cleaned the beaches of the few bottles, noodle wrappers etc that washed up every single morning, and posed a risk to our nesting Turtles. Flash forward- gloves, litter pickers and old rice sacks at the ready, post monsoon beaches in Malaysia are quite the scene of modern day human impact. Looking outwards at kilometres of debris strewn beaches, we set out to clean as much as possible.
This line of litter is the whole way along the beach.
But as soon as you begin this challenge do you realise what an unbelievably enormous challenge these beach cleans really are. We began on a small patch, sorting rubbish into different categories ready for recycling. Morbid fascination flagged my interest to start with, what would we find, someone’s discarded treasure? That excitement past finding the most beautiful pieces of driftwood (yes please!) soon dwindles away when I worked out that most of what contributed to people’s discarded “treasure” was plastic. Plastic water and soda bottles, plastic drinking straws, flip flops but also glass bottles was the biggest percentage of things we’d be picking up. By a long shot the most disturbing litter we found was used medicinal waste. The threat of syringes and open needles commonly lurking in the waste makes this job even more dangerous, and practically harder. Kneeling to sort waste becomes impossible, unless you want to play Russian roulette with what you might accidentally become injected with.
Beyond the huge percentages of everyday single use plastics, other things we would commonly find are cigarette lighters, fishing buoys / bulbs (for squid fishing), plastic that wraps fresh fruit, kitchen utensils, laundry baskets. We would often find the whole sheet of foam, with flip flops shaped wholes. Dumped straight from manufacturing. We’d find random things that would tell a story- I found a plastic Peso from a Mexican casino dated 1994. I’d love to know the story of that little peso, floating in the ocean for potentially over 20 years. We found a full bottle of Lancome facial toner.
Straws are everywhere. This was just from a few minutes.
When you are picking up plastic all day over a number of consecutive days and then over a few months, you become disgusted by plastic, if you weren't enough before. I have learnt an important lesson from my back breaking sweaty beach cleans that I hope I can pass to you. I have gotten a real distaste for plastic in my life. I avoid single use like the plague- carrying a water bottle everywhere I go (including empty ones to the airport!) and avoiding anything disposable if I can. But it’s also important to think about plastic that is “longer lasting”. I believe its better to buy a glass, metal or wooden “things” for everyday life, as I have found that they last longer and they look so much nicer!! Quality over Quantity is underrated phrase, because buying less, but high quality “stuff” is so so important. It’s about buying something that you love to use, to look at and will love it to death… literally… use it for as long as possible. Then at the end of it’s life you can still recycle. It might cost more to start with, but I can guarantee it will last a lot longer and save you money over time.
Plastic straws are a particular issue on beaches around the world. For a piece of plastic that we use for literally seconds before throwing away- it causes catastrophic problems. I'm sure you've seen the video of the Turtle with the straw embedded in its nose. I realised, that I semi regularly use straws WITHOUT EVEN REALISING! If I buy a smoothie, it might have a straw that I use without evening "noticing". I am making a huge effort to completely stop using straws, after all they are a huge unnecessary luxury. I have swapped to glass straws and have found them so so amazing!
I was under the impression that recycling was a well intrenched part of modern life. So I did a little experiment. I bin searched in our communal bins. I was horrified by a few things… One: just HOW MUCH rubbish people produced over a week. Two: In the landfill bins was a HUGE amount of recyclables. In modern day Australia (where I am currently based) I couldn't believe that relatively wealthy adult urban population either didn't know how, or couldn't be bothered, to recycle! Ensuring you recycle properly goes a HUGE way to make sure the things you through away aren't filling up the ground! Not recycling is either ignorant or lazy…
We are not all fortunate enough to travel to tropical destinations to do beach cleans. But beaches and countryside near to where you live will undoubtedly also bear the impacts of plastic. Wear gloves and when walking your dog, pick up litter and where you can, sort it for recycling. We can, and have to, take responsibility for plastics. Avoid single use plastic. Straws, drinking bottles, cheap flip flops. Invest in longer lasting solutions that will save you money over the long term and help prevent the plastic apocalypse! Some plastic use is entrenched in our everyday life